Five Effective Strategies to Engage Your Team

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By Cynthia Pizarro, President of Ohana Software

One of my favorite mission statements is that of Indianapolis based DEFENDERS: “You don’t build businesses. You build leaders.” It’s about people first. This is the heart of employee engagement- the acknowledgment that our most important assets are the people who work for us.

When I connect with business leaders who share this belief, I feel an immediate connection. The fact that we may come from vastly different industries doesn’t matter. We share the same concerns. Concerns like: “How can I connect more effectively with my team?” “How can I communicate well when not everyone is in the same location?” and, “How can I keep everyone marching to the same drumbeat when our team is so diverse?”

When you genuinely care about people, and they know it, it changes the way they work. Your employees want to know they are valued and important to the mission, vision, and greater impact of your company.

We all hear about the companies that stock beer and have ping-pong tables. While these perks may be great for recruiting, they aren’t engagement strategies. Do you think giving your kids candy will make them love you more? No. These so-called ‘strategies’ work in the same way – they don’t. Engaging your team is a lot like connecting with your family – they need to know they are part of something special that wouldn’t be the same without them.

The following are five effective strategies to engaging your people without tapping a keg:

Strategy #1: Connect Your People With Purpose
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory published in 1943 by Abraham Maslow in his paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Maslow suggested that we need to first have our physical needs (like food and shelter) and security met. Then, we seek love and belonging, focus on building our self-esteems, and finally, strive for self-actualization – in that order. But, I have heard other experts suggest that love and belonging are actually our most basic needs. People give up comfort and safety for love and belonging every day. Belonging to a group of people with a common purpose is a powerful way to develop community and create a strong bond.

It’s become well-known that millennials want their work to matter and are selecting the companies they work for, not based on salary but based on the greater impact. But, don’t we all want our work to matter? When you are working toward a common purpose, it not only creates a bond, it energizes your team – and they tap into the discretionary energy that is released when employees are truly engaged.

To connect your team with purpose, you must:

  1. Be authentic, no matter what. When your company demonstrates an authentic purpose, employees will sense that and feel a greater connection to the company.
  2. Bring in the right people. You can’t force employees to share your purpose. If they don’t, you will know it – and everyone else will too. It’s better to hire people with a shared sense of purpose.
  3. Be clear about your company’s purpose, mission, and vision. You can’t mobilize people without clearly and regularly communicating the reason the company exists and why they are an important part of that equation.

Strategy #2 – Create a digital workplace
Communicating clearly and often is tough. I’ve spoken with lots of leaders about this struggle and learned that it is shared by almost everyone. This is especially true when your team isn’t all in the same location — creating deep connections just gets harder.

Here’s the challenge – 43% of employees report working remotely in some capacity (Gallup State of the American Workplace Report 2017). Today, we are always connected and the lines have blurred between the physical office and the place where work actually happens.

As individuals, the way we live and communicate is changing at a rate very close to the rate of technology. But, businesses are much slower to change. Think about it, for most of us, email is still the primary form of communication, and it is 30-year old technology. Texting is nearly 20 years old. And, smart phones are already 10 years old.

But how do we use technology in our personal lives? Today, many of us start the day by asking our virtual assistant for a news update, order groceries on an app, and catch-up with friends and colleagues on a social network. Yet our employers still expect us to check email, log into an intranet, and return voicemail.

To effectively engage our teams, we need to modernize how we communicate. Ohana Software has developed a communications platform that serves as a “virtual place” where work families can connect, communicate, and get inspired. Effective communication is essential to engagement. So, a digital workplace strategy must be a primary element of your strategic plan.

Strategy #3 – Communicate Visually

Sharing photos and videos with your team is a powerful way create deeper connections. This is because, when we look at visual images, our bodies release the hormones: serotonin (creates feelings of connection and belonging), and oxytocin (reinforces feelings of trust and safety).

The power behind photos is their ability to instantly ignite emotions and associations — without a written or spoken word. Photos are able to connect people across generations, cultures, and languages. They also have the power to shift people out of advocacy for their own ideas, and into inquiry, where they are open to new ideas.

Photos and videos give you the opportunity to create visual stories and lasting impressions around important messages. You can build narratives about your purpose, community impact, training, and more. These visual narratives leave a lasting impression because images stay with us longer. In fact, after a period of three days, we retain 60% of what we see and only 10% of what we hear.

Here are a few more reasons you should use pictures and videos as often as possible:
• The human attention span is 8 seconds
• Humans process visuals 60,000 times faster than text
• 93% of all communication is visual
• 81% of people skim content
• People learn 40% better with pictures

Strategy #4 – Focus on Employee Experience
Today, companies are studying employee journeys from first contact through onboarding, first promotion, first baby, first personal hardship and retirement, and proactively creating strategies to ensure the employee experience mirrors the culture they are building. Employee Experience is at the heart of engagement – and ultimately will determine your company’s long-term success and whether you enjoy the journey together.

Monitoring sentiment with regular pulse surveys and gathering data on net promoter scores are great ways to predict growth. These leading indicators of engagement inform whether your company is on track to attain trailing indicators such as growth, attrition, productivity and profit.

The Results Pyramid illustrates how important it is for leaders to be intentional about creating shared experiences. Experiences inform and reinforce what your employees believe to be true about your company. Those beliefs translate into actions, and then, actions turn into results. An employee experience that results in engagement will inspire an employee to go above and beyond and tap into the discretionary energy that typifies high-performance cultures.

Strategy #5 – Invest in Training
Investing in training is one of the most impactful ways you can positively influence an employee’s experience. Helping people grow personally and professionally is not only the right thing to do, it has a huge impact on results.

Still, many companies struggle with employee training. Training investments hit the bottom line long before the returns are realized. For this reason, it is often the first area to get cut when a company is struggling to perform. This is a short-term fix but a long-term mistake. Training may also get deferred when it takes away time from sales or production activities, making it difficult to schedule. This is why on-demand learning options like TrueU that allow flexibility in scheduling are becoming popular.

In study after study, the return on investment (ROI) in developing a company’s human capital is consistently higher than almost any other investment a company can make. The returns include improved morale and retention, recruiting, competitive advantage, and contributions.

Jack Welsh is known as one of the greatest CEOs of all time. Jack said, “When it comes to investing in your people, the return is INFINITE.”

Companies that trained their managers and supervisors are often market leaders, achieving consistently higher results including an average of 24% higher profits, 86% higher company values, 21% higher productivity, and 300% less turnover.

The book “The Good Company”, by Dr. Laurie Bassi, includes research that indicates that the biggest single predictor of a company’s ability to beat its direct competitors AND the overall stock market was the amount the company spends on training its people.

These people-first strategies to will effectively improve engagement with your team. But, you must remember, employee engagement is a journey just like employee experience. You can address one area at a time to improve employee engagement. It’s an iterative process. So, just pick one strategy, implement it, measure the results, and determine how you can continue to improve engagement, and repeat the process. Soon you will have higher engagement, improved results, and a much more enjoyable journey.